London (AFP) – Raheem Sterling scored a hat-trick as England started what they hope is a road back to Wembley for the Euro 2020 final with a comprehensive 5-0 win over the Czech Republic to open their qualifying campaign.
Harry Kane was also on target from the penalty spot as England carried the momentum from a run to the World Cup semi-finals and qualification for the last four of the Nations League into the Euro qualifiers.
England have stormed to the top of qualifying Group A ahead of Monday’s trip to Montenegro, who drew 1-1 at Bulgaria.
Jadon Sancho is one of the new additions to Gareth Southgate’s squad since that revival for the Three Lions in Russia and was handed his first competitive international start.
The 18-year-old, who has shone in the Bundesliga for Borussia Dortmund this season, gave England fans further cause for excitement, with his potential added to that of Sterling and Kane coming into their prime.
Sterling had scored just two goals in his first 45 caps, but the Manchester City winger now has five in his last three England games as he begins to come of age on the international stage.
– Comfortable England –
After a lacklustre start in which the hosts dominated possession without threatening much, one move of genuine quality opened the scoring on 23 minutes and the way to a comfortable night for Southgate’s men.
Kane showed his ability is not restricted to finding the net with a wonderful pass inside Filip Novak to free Sancho, who squared for Sterling to tap home on the stretch.
Another burst of inspiration from Sterling made the game safe in first-half stoppage time.
He wriggled around four Czech defenders before a combination of Pavel Kaderabek and Tomas Kalas hauled him down.
Kane maintained his flawless record from the spot for England and scored his 21st international goal, firing his powerful penalty past Jiri Pavlenka despite the Czech stopper getting a hand to it.
The Czechs already had bad memories of Wembley as the scene where they lost the Euro 96 final to Germany in extra-time before this mauling.
Gone are the days where they are contenders to win the Euros, but Jaroslav Silhavy’s side did at least spark briefly into life after the break.
Tomas Soucek headed inches wide and David Pavelka forced Jordan Pickford into two routine saves before England went through the gears to give the scoreline a fairer reflection of the gulf between the sides.
Sancho should have scored his first international goal after more good work from Sterling and Kane, but could not force the ball past a desperate challenge from Novak, and Sterling showed Sancho how it is done with a fine curling finish into the top corner just after the hour mark.
However, England’s hat-trick hero had luck on his side for his third goal as a huge deflection left Pavlenka in the Czech goal flummoxed.
That was Sterling’s final act as he made way for another precociously talented 18-year-old, Callum Hudson-Odoi, to make his international debut, while Declan Rice was also handed his England debut after switching allegiances from the Republic of Ireland.
And Hudson-Odoi had a big part to play in England’s fifth as his shot was parried by Pavlenka into the onrushing Kalas, who haplessly turned the ball into his own net.
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